Zenas E. Bliss was born July 4, 1832, in Eaton (or perhaps Podville), Madison County, New York, the son of Massachusetts natives Obediah Bliss Jr. (1792-1863) and Marilla Pool (1801-1857).
In 1820 Obediah was living in Savoy, Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Obediah and Marilla were married in Savoy, Massachusetts on July 9, 1815. They eventually settled in New York and by 1830 Obediah was living in Hamilton, Madison County, New York.
The family moved from New York to Ohio, and by 1840 Obediah and his family were living in Chagrin Falls, where Zenas went to school at the Ashbury Seminary. Zenas was probably living at home with his family when commenced his medical studies at the age of 18 in the fall of 1850, serving as an apprentice to a Dr. Harlow and to Zenas’ brother, Dr. D. W. Bliss, and in 1851 continued his studies with his brother who had moved his practice from Chagrin Falls to Ionia, Ionia County, Michigan.
Zenas attended the 1852-53 session in the medical department at the University of Michigan, subsequently practiced in Lowell, Kent County from June of 1853 until October of 1854, when he returned to Ann Arbor, and attended medical lectures in 1854-55, following which he was graduated as a medical doctor in 1855.
In 1855 he moved to Ionia, Ionia County, where he commenced the practice of medicine and surgery until the war broke out. He married New York native Marion A. Carr (b. 1839) on September 15, 1856, and they had at least one child, a daughter Marian A. (b. 1860). By 1860 Zenas was working as a physician and living with his wife and daughter in Ionia, Ionia County; they were living with Archibald and Jane Carr, probably Marian’s parents.
As a practicing physician in a frontier community such as western Michigan, Zenas was confronted by a vast array of medical problems, some of which could be handled with ease.
On April 30, 1858, the Eagle reprinted an Ionia Gazette story reporting that Drs. Bliss and Cornell had removed a sizable tumor from Julius Babcock. “The tumor occupied a position in front of, and partially under the left arm pit, and when removed left a wound frightful to look upon. The operation consumed about eight minutes, but the patient experienced no pain, as he was put under the influence of chloroform. We learn that he is doing well, and so far recovered that on Monday last he took the cars for Lowell, the place of his residence.”
Trauma was another common hazard of mid-nineteenth century life. On September 26, 1860, the Enquirer wrote that Dr. D. W. Bliss, “assisted by Drs. Shepherd, Bissell, and Mainard, of our city, and Dr. Z. Bliss, of Ionia, and Dr. Daniel Wooley, of Big Rapids, amputated the limb of Mr. James Robinson, of Big Rapids, at the Bridge Street House, on Wednesday last. Mr. R. has suffered several years with what is called ‘white swelling’; and it was found necessary to amputate the diseased limb just above the joint. The operation was quickly performed, while the patient was under the influence of ether.”
Zenas took a keen interest in not only keeping up with the general medical trends of the day. Indeed, he worked to actively further his medical education. Toward that end he spent the winter of 1858-1859 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, studying “techniques in that city’s medical colleges and hospitals.”
He soon returned to Ionia, however, and where he was reported living in 1860 with his wife and small daughter, Mariana, and his father-in-law Archibald, who was a “general dealer”; according to the census of that year, Zenas was worth $1,000 in real estate and $1,500 in personal property.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, shortly after war broke out in April of 1861, and when it was announced that a regiment was forming in Grand Rapids, Dr. Bliss quickly offered his services. Zenas was still practicing medicine in Ionia when he enlisted at the age of 29 as assistant surgeon at organization of the Third Michigan Infantry Regiment, in Grand Rapids, on May 13, 1861, joining his brother D. Willard who was the Regimental Surgeon.
In addition to providing medical inspections to each man who wished to enlist, the regimental surgeons also provided medical information for distribution in the local newspapers. On May 1 the Enquirer published the following notice from regimental surgeons Drs. D. W. and Zenas Bliss, in which they wished to instruct the ladies of Grand Rapids as to how to make bandages, etc.
Actual war exists in our land, and the U.S. is engaged in an attempt to suppress rebellion, which exists in some portions of our Union, and to maintain the laws and support the dignity of the govt., and in this hour of peril, it behooves us all good citizens -- ladies included -- to make known by their deeds, whether they are for or against this, the land of their nativity and adoption. Therefore, the undersigned, as Surgeons of the 3d Regiment of M. V. U. M., and in behalf of the Volunteer Soldiery of said regiment, issue this circular, asking all ladies who feel so disposed, to contribute bandages and lint, for the use of said regiment while in actual service. DIRECTIONS - All bandages should be made of cotton cloth or muslin, bleached or unbleached. Old is preferable to new; if the former, it should be thoroughly washed. It should be soft, yet firm, smooth, strong, and not too yielding, divested of selvige, seams and ravelings, and should be torn (not cut) into strips varying in width from 2 and one-quarter to 2 and one-half inches, the ends of the strips lapped, and sewed together. The length of a bandage may vary from 6 to 12 yards -- ordinarily 10 yards -- and each bandage should be carefully, smoothly, evenly and tightly rolled up and pinned. The lint may consist of old pieces of linen or muslin, divested of selvige, seams and ravelings, varying in size from that of the hand up to any other size convenient. It is hoped and believed that every one can do a little in this noble service, and that a hearty response will be given to this call, and that you will show your devotion and loyalty to this govt. by sending in this small yet acceptable token, to be used if necessary in mitigating the sufferings of those who go, in this hour of peril, to defend the flag and honor of our nation. We request that all donations be completely and carefully made up, and left at the office of Dr. Bliss of Grand Rapids, and the office of Dr. Bliss of Ionia, by Weds. evening, May 1st. Each package to be carefully labeled with the name of donor, the number of yards of bandages, number of pieces of lint, and number of papers of pins.
Bliss wrote later in his official report,
The regiment remained in the state encampment one month and seven days, and was in crowded barracks; and over one hundred cases of measles occurred during this time, some very severe cases, but only one proved fatal, and that not until the lapse of several months’ protracted pulmonary inflammation. None of the cases were marked by anything unusual; but all suffered from bronchial irritation. The ordinary treatment consisted in the mild aperient early in the disease, frequent sponging of the surface, mucilaginous drinks, tablespoonful doses of a solution of three grains of tartarized antimony, and two grains of morphia in three pints of water, administered every two hours for the first few days, after which quinine, wine whey, milk punch, beef tea, and a supporting treatment were employed. Many of the convalescent cases had mumps, and several cases of metastasis occurred, but without serious results. Warm anodyne fomentations to the testes and parotid glands generally gave relief.
The Third Michigan left Grand Rapids for Washington, DC, on Thursday, June 13 and arrived at their first encampment along the banks of the Potomac on Sunday afternoon, June 16. According to Zenas, “The duties were daily drill and work on the fortifications about Washington. There was much diarrhea while in camp, which was attributed to the water, diet, and the great changes of temperature, and the days being very warm and the nights cold.”
The Regiment’s first taste of battle came in late July. Apparently there had been rumors around western Michigan that the men of the Third infantry were not receiving the best of medical care, and certain allegations were made against the Regimental surgeons and their performance during the various actions along the Bull Run in northern Virginia between July 18 and July 21, 1861.
In reply Colonel McConnell, Lieutenant Colonel Stevens, Major Champlin and Quartermaster Collins signed and sent an open letter to the Enquirer, praising the two physicians.
The conduct [wrote the staff officers] of Dr. D. W. Bliss, Surgeon, and Z. E. Bliss, Assistant Surgeon, of this Regiment, during the late retreat from Bull Run, having been severely animadverted upon, and having now fully examined into the subject, we deem it just to those gentlemen to make the following statement of facts. During the battle of Thursday, when there was apprehended need of them by the Regiment, they were both on hand doing what was possible to be done for the wounded of our Regiment, and also of the Brigade; while Dr. Z. E. Bliss contrary to what is required of a surgeon, came upon the field to attend the wounded during the action, remained there for over an hour personally exposed to the musketry, shot, and shell of the enemy and remained there until it was deemed best to have him retire to the rear, where he would be less exposed and could render an efficient service. Dr. D. W. Bliss was all that day at his proper post at the Brigade hospital, established in the rear of the line, attending to his duties as surgeon. On Sunday, the day of the last battle of Bull Run, their services not being required by our Regiment beyond prescribing for a few sick, which duty performed, they were ordered by the Surgeon General to open a hospital at Centreville, and take charge of, and prescribe for the sick, and treat such of the wounded of other Regiments as should present themselves for treatment. They complied with this order, and did their duty faithfully that day, taking care of many sick and wounded. Sunday night the retreat, having been ordered, General Tyler, a general of the division who commanded that portion of the retreat, ordered them to move forward with the ambulances containing the wounded men, and attend to their wants during the retreat. This accounts for their severance from their Regiment during the retreat, and for their arrival in Washington in advance thereof. We think that the officer who ordered them off, under the circumstances, transcended his duty, and that in complying they had no other idea than that they were obliged to obey the order of a superior officer thus given. We make this statement in justice to them, and to end, if possible, whatever unfavorable impression may be entertained toward them by those not acquainted with the facts of the case.
After his brother’s promotion to Brigade Surgeon in the United States Army in the fall of 1861 Zenas was commissioned Regimental Surgeon on October 15, 1861, and Dr. George B. Wilson, a young physician possibly from Ionia County was appointed Assistant Surgeon. Zenas remained Regimental Surgeon until late summer of the following year when illness forced him to leave the Third Michigan.
In his official report of his services during the opening phases of the Virginia Peninsula campaign in the spring of 1862, Zenas wrote;
The regiment was attached to General Berry’s brigade of General Kearney’s division of the Third Corps, and arrived at Fort Monroe on March 26th, 1862, and shortly afterwards moved to Yorktown, and encamped in a thick woods, intermingled with patches of swamp and pools of water, the ground being covered with fragments of fallen trees and decaying vegetable matter. Water could be obtained only by digging holes from two and a half to three feet in depth, and the surface obtained form these was all that the men had. The regiment remained in this camp about five weeks, and was doing picket and fatigue duty on trenches and fortifications all that time. A few intermittents and remittents [fevers] occurred, as also about forty cases of typhoid fever, all very severe, marked by epistaxis tympanitis, and, after a few days, hemorrhage from the bowels, the blood being evidently impoverished. Several of these cases proved fatal. One case of typhus, marked by hemorrhage from the nose and bowels, and with petchiae and hemorrhagic spots on the surface, occurred in the regiment and proved fatal [Hiram Dailey of Company A]. All of these patients had active, supporting treatment throughout. The sick were cared for at a hospital, about a mile and a half to the rear, composed of log huts or barracks, built and formerly occupied by the 53d Virginia Volunteers (Confederate), upon a sandy soil, where we obtained an abundance of excellent well water. These barracks were well ventilated, and accommodated a large number of sick and wounded from both the regulars and volunteers. I saw all of the sick and what few wounded there were at this hospital and had immediate charge of very many sick who were members of various regiments; and nearly all of the cases were either low remittents or typhoid fever. I say remittents, because some of them might be easily classed as such; but I believed then, as now, that they were almost pure enteric fever. I held autopsies of all that died who were under my charge, six in number. No post mortem was held on the case of typhus [Dailey]. All the deaths from typhoid fever occurred late in the course of the disease, and the majority from hemorrhages from the bowels, one from coma, and the others apparently from pure exhaustion. The abdominal viscera were those principally examined. Peyer’s glands were found in each case in a state of ulceration; some very large ulcers; some healing while others were in an inflamed condition. Some of the ulcerations extended nearly through the coats of the intestines. I preserved the specimens in each case, but subsequently lost them during the campaign. The small intestines, through their entire length, gave evidence of previous inflammatory action; but all the other abdominal viscera gave no evidence of either organic or serious functional disease, and the soft parts and glands, when divided with the scalpel, seemed to be almost exsanguined. I wish the blood could have been analysed, because I feel confident that the primary trouble was there. In cases of epistaxis, the blood gave only a faint coloring to the spots on linen, and it did not give to the linen that stiffened feel that we get when it is saturated with ordinary blood, from both of which I infer that the blood was deficient in plasma and coloring matter, or defibrinated. In these cases, quinine, brandy, ammonia, and small doses of opium were given with a view to support the patient. Essence of beef and beef tea, of good quality, and in abundance, was furnished and given. The supply of medicines at this time was ample, but at times we were deficient in hospital stores. On May 5th, during a heavy rain storm, the division arrived within four miles of Williamsburg, and the roads being unintentionally blockaded with artillery and wagons, so that an ambulance could not get through, I ordered eight of the hospital corps to take from the transport wagon the field stretchers, instruments, chloroform, bandages, brandy, candles, and lanterns, and was enabled to render service to a large number of the wounded the ambulances not arriving on the field until the next day, May 6th, at one o’clock p.m. On the evening of the 5th, by direction of Surgeon J. J. Millhau, U.S.A., medical direction of the corps, I erected an extemporaneous table, in a large frame barn, situated about one mile in the rear of the battlefield. During the evening and night of the 5th, by the valuable assistance of Doctor Sparks, a volunteer surgeon from Boston, we dressed the wounds of over eighty officers and soldiers. Among the operations performed were one amputation of the foot, and two amputations of the arm. Surgeon Milhau, U.S.A., being present early in the evening, kindly performed one of these. There were also one amputation of the forearm and one of the hand, besides a number of cases which required the removal of the whole or a portion of one or more fingers. The wounds were mostly received by musketry. On Tuesday afternoon, I dressed wounds of both Union and confederate soldiers, at a barrack bear Fort Magruder, and on Wednesday, May 8th, I dressed wounded of both armies in a church and at William and Mary College in Williamsburg. I am able to recall the number of capital operations which I performed during the two days; but as near as I can remember, two amputations of the leg, one of the arm, and one of the thigh, at the junction of the middle with the upper third. The patient on whom the latter operation was practiced survived only thirty-six hours. No exsections were performed under my observation. A number of bullets were extracted. I believe I dressed the wounds of about two hundred at this battle. The supply of soup and food was very deficient during the first twenty-four hours, because the roads were in such condition that the supply trains could not move up. Pack mules would have been of great service here. Indeed, we sent footmen back to meet the trains, and bring up hard biscuit, sugar and coffee. The wounded were removed, on May 7th, in ambulances. Some few, seriously wounded, were carried on field stretchers to York River, a distance of some seven miles, and placed aboard transports. Chloroform was given in all capital, and other severe operations. Twenty-five days after the battle of Williamsburg, the regiment arrived at Savage’s Station. During this time one officer and eighteen men with fever were sent north on a hospital transport. On May 31st, the battle of Fair Oaks was fought. Early in the engagement, I established a field depot near the field of action; but later in the day I moved back to Savage’s Station. For the triple reason of securing an abundance of good water, better security for the wounded. As well as to have them near the railroad station for removal after operations, I established a depot, erected a table in a large log tobacco house, without floors, about fifteen rods from the railroad depot, and night and day was almost constantly engaged in dressing and operating upon the wounded from various regiments, indiscriminately, from Saturday evening, May 31st, until Wednesday evening, June 4th. Here, as at Williamsburg, a comparatively few were wounded with shell and grape, a large proportion being wounded with the conical rifle ball; but not a few were wounded with the round musket ball and buckshot. I had one disarticulation of a shoulder joint, the case not admitting of excision, and several other amputations, including one of the arm for hemorrhage, in a case where excision of the elbow joint had been performed the night before by some surgeon to me unknown. There was ample supply of water of good quality at the station, and an abundance of food, including Soyer’s concentrated soup and fresh beef. I noticed that Surgeon Frank H. Hamilton, U.S.V. in his report of the battle of Fair Oaks, published in the American Medical Times, states that “Such was the scarcity of food that general Sumner ordered several horses belonging to his orderlies to be killed,” to be used as food for the wounded. I am happy to say that no such exigencies occurred at the depot where I was operating.
On July 2, 1862, Dr. Gunn, acting Surgeon for Berry’s Brigade examined Zenas and noted that he was suffering from “bilious diarrhea for more than two weeks past, during which time he has been unable to do duty, and as the disease arises from climatic causes, I believe that a change of climate is necessary to speedily restore said officer to health, and recommend that he be sent to general hospital.” Dr. Wilson, suffering from the end stages of tuberculosis also resigned from the army in June of 1862.
Zenas was sent home to Ionia, thus leaving the regiment without a surgeon. Zenas was absent on sick leave at home in Ionia when he wrote on July 18 to Adjutant General John Robertson, urging that Walter B. Morrison, then hospital steward for the Third Regiment, be commissioned assistant surgeon in the Regiment “immediately if he has not already been.”
In fact, Dr. James Grove of Grand Rapids was appointed Assistant Surgeon in August and then Regimental Surgeon in September of 1862; Walter Morrison would take over the duties of Assistant Surgeon for the Third Michigan.
Zenas’ concern that a competent medical officer be appointed to the Regiment was very real since he himself remained ill. (Curiously there is no mention of Dr. Wilson in any of the correspondence however.) On August 4, Dr. William Thomas, surgeon for the Twenty-first Michigan infantry in rendezvous at Camp Sigel in Ionia County, examined Zenas and certified that he required an extension of his furlough. He noted that Bliss was still suffering from chronic diarrhea and in a “very much emaciated and generally debilitated from this cause. Said officer is unable to travel, and to attempt to enter the field at the present time would endanger his life. Neither is he able to do duty and I believe he will not be in a less period than thirty days.” He thus recommended that Bliss’ furlough be extended.
Zenas soon recovered, however, and returned to the Regiment. He underwent an examination before the Medical Board at Washington in September for promotion, and on September 24 he was transferred and appointed a United States Army Surgeon (Brigade Surgeon) at Baltimore, Maryland.
He was specifically charged with superintending the fitting up of several general hospitals, and he remained in charge of the Continental Hotel hospital in Baltimore during the winter of 1862-63. In June of 1863 he was placed temporarily in charge of invalid officers and the following month was placed in permanent charge of the general hospital at the National Hotel in Baltimore. On December 31, 1864, he was appointed Medical Surveyor for the United States Army and stationed in Baltimore.
Zenas was brevetted Lieutenant Colonel January 26, 1866 and was mustered out of service on February 2, 1866.
Shortly after his discharge from the military he sailed for Europe in October of 1866 to continue his medical studies in the hospitals of London and Paris, where he spent the winter. He returned to Michigan in the spring of 1867 and began his medical practice in Grand Rapids by opening an office in Bryan’s Block, where he advertised himself as a “General Practitioner of Medicine, Surgery and Diseases of Women and Children.” In 1867-68 Zenas was working at no. 37 Monroe (upstairs) and boarding at the Tanner house, and he remained in that location through the following year. “Dr. Bliss,” wrote the Eagle in late March of 1869, “is breaking ground for a new brick block, 44x80 feet, on the lot next above the Catholic church, on Monroe Street.”
At 2:00 p.m. on the afternoon of December 31, 1869, 27-year-old Elizabeth (or Eliza) Scagel, wife of Edgar D. Scagel and mother of two (Gertie and Franky), died at her home in the northern part of William N. Cook’s house on LaGrave Street in Grand Rapids. She died, it was reported, “after several weeks of painful sickness, in such a manner as to leave suspicion among some of the neighbors of the family that she had been foully dealt with. . . .”
On Wednesday evening, April 27, 1870, Dr. Zenas Bliss, one of the most respected and trusted members of the west Michigan medical community was arrested by Kent County Sheriff Wyckoff and charged with the murder of Eliza Scagel. This case quickly excited “a great deal of interest in the minds of the community, and Dr. Bliss is not without deep sympathy from his many friends in this city.” The doctor was immediately brought before Justice Slauson (or Slawson), but examination was postponed until 2:00 Thursday. It was charged by Mr. Scagel “that Dr. Bliss, sometime in December last, procured, or attempted to procure, an abortion on Mrs. S., death resulting; the particulars of which, as elicited by testimony at the Coroner’s inquest, . . .”
On Wednesday, May 11, Justice Slawson, after hearing both sides of the argument rendered his verdict. The evidence, wrote one eyewitness,
entirely failed to implicate the respondent in any criminal or improper practice is the universal opinion, and his honorable acquittal will be most gratifying to the public. The investigation has been searching, and so little has been shown by the prosecution tending to substantiate the allegation in the information, that we have been surprised that the prosecution did not abandon it. . . . Justice Slauson appeared to have the case well under advisement, and immediately proceeded to deliver his opinion, holding to the evidence sought to be introduced of the declarations of the deceased that, even if it were admissible, as he thought it was not, those declarations contained nothing really implicating the respondent, and generally, that the evidence was insufficient to justify holding him for trial. He therefore ordered that the prisoner be discharged. The decision was greeted with tremendous cheering, the like of which never before waked the echoes of Justice Slauson’s office, and Dr. Bliss received the eager congratulations of his friends. A similar storm of applause followed the conclusion of Col. Gray’s remarks n the previous evening.
Specifically, the judge based his opinion on five key points. First, that there was no evidence to show that Dr. Bliss had inserted the bougie except inferential evidence. Second that the circumstances of the case went far to disprove the theory of the prosecution -- a theory that was only inferential. Third, that the dying declarations shown in the evidence were not to be received in law as such. Fourth that the circumstances show the deceased to have been determined to have no more children. And finally, that Dr. Bliss’s connection with the cause of death was not proved by the evidence. Dr. Bliss was discharged from custody.
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Zenas quickly returned to his medical practice. In 1873 he was living in Grand Rapids when he was appointed a member of the Michigan Board of Health, but declining health forced him to resign in order to seek relief abroad. He also served as an Examining Surgeon for Pensions, and was the president of the local pension board at the time of his death, and he had also been a member of the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the Michigan State Medical Society and was president of the Grand Rapids Medical and Surgical Society (today the Kent County Medical Society). In May of 1874 he was among the attendees at the annual meeting of the State Medical Society held in Coldwater and was noted for being a physician of the “regular school”. He was also a founding member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association. No pension seems to be available.
He was serving as the president of the Grand Rapids Medical and Surgical Society when he spent the winter of 1874-75 in southern France, Italy and Switzerland, again seeking relief for his chronic illness, tuberculosis.
On February 2, 1875, he wrote to the society from Nice, France, a letter which was read by Dr. Hazelwood during the society’s annual meeting. Zenas felt it was his
duty to review the changes occurring in the society during the past year; to note the progress made in its plans and purposes; to make such suggestions for the future as may seem proper, and to submit to you a dissertation upon some theme or subject relating to the honorable profession which your body represents. The latter I shall attempt to do only in a general way, and briefly. The society has five names added to the list of new members; it has lost one by death (the late Dr. E. S. Bienemann) and three by reason of change of residence. Having no information from the society since January 7, 1875, any changes which may have occurred subsequent to that date are not noted herein. Chief among the plans and purposes of the Association, as set forth in its constitution by the original founders, was a desire for the mutual improvement of its members in the profession of medicine and the art of surgery. Thus, an association which might at first seem to have for its object the furtherance of personal knowledge alone, become a public benefactor; for the advancement in the science of medicine, or improvement in the art of surgery, bring with them corresponding benefits to the people, by enabling the members of the profession to carry with them to the bedside of the sick that knowledge which alone renders the physician capable of dealing rationally with disease and the surgeon successfully with the surgical art. As evidence of a growing interest each successive year in the advantages afforded by this Association, we will mention the increased number in attendance at its meetings, the great variety of pathological specimens presented, and in the larger number and variety of papers read, and scientific subjects discussed. At these meetings, our professional thoughts become enlarged, our opinions modified, and our prejudices dispelled, and it is here, through the interchange of sentiments and that sympathy common to all mankind, that we learn to know each other better.
Dr. Bliss then turned to what he considered one of the most pressing health problems in Grand Rapids, the indigent sick. “The time is not far distant,” he wrote, “when some provision must be made by the city, in a moderate way, for the accommodation of the destitute sick; and the subject is alluded to herein simply for the purpose of expressing a hope that the authorities will recognize the wisdom of submitting to this association a request for its opinion as regards a location for such an institution, and plans for buildings. This society would cheerfully respond to such request by giving information that would insure the most healthful and accessible location, and plans that would secure ample and well ventilated buildings, at a comparatively moderate expense.”
The importance of one’s environment as a key component to good health, indeed the very climate of one’s surroundings, was very much on his mind, perhaps as he considered his own predicament.
All civilized nations have long recognized the curative influences of climate on disease, and for ages past it has been more or less customary among the invalids of the different people of the earth, to seek a change of climate as one of the means to secure their restoration to health. Since the discovery of steam as a motive power and the inauguration of railroads as a means of transit, the medical profession has discussed the subject of climate as a curative agent in disease more than formerly, and, fortunately, with increasing interest and profit; and as time brings with it increased facilities of communication between distant points and augmented wealth among the people, this source of relief for certain maladies will be more than every resorted to. Therefore, it becomes the duty of every intelligent physician to inform himself as far as possible upon this subject, that he may be enabled to advise intelligently whenever his opinion is sought. While it is acknowledged that the climate of no one locality is a specific for any known disease, experience has demonstrated that persons afflicted with certain maladies obtain more relief in some climates than in others; experience has also taught that different individuals afflicted with the same class of disease, and apparently in the same condition, are often affected very differently by the same climate. This singular fact is well illustrated by the varied effects of climate on that disease know as pulmonary consumption. One person improves in the invigorating air of Northern Michigan or Minnesota; another in the rarefied atmosphere of Colorado; a third in the warm valleys, or on the arid plains of California; another finds relief in summer on the Atlantic coast; while a fifth, perhaps aged, feeble, unable to resist cold, experiences relief during the months of winter in the warm, humid and balmy atmosphere of Florida. It is the province of the physician to explain this apparent contradiction by classifying the cases coming under his care, and assigning the climate most appropriate for the relief of each. Having passed several weeks of the present winter in Nice, it may be well to say something of its climate. According to traditional accounts, Nice was founded 300 years before the Christian era. The city, containing 50,000 inhabitants, faces south toward the Mediterranean Sea, the waters of which wash its southern boundaries for a distance of over two miles. Its soul is composed of detritus from the rocks of the surrounding mountains, which rise in the numerous spurs in the rear of the city, to the height of 500 to 2,000 feet, thus protecting the inhabitants from the cold winds of the north, which come from more distant, snow-capped peaks of the Alps. The Temperature never reaches lower than twenty-eight degrees Fahrenheit in winter and rarely above seventy-eight degrees in summer -- the highest recorded is eighty-two degrees. These observations were all taken in a northern exposure and in the shade. The average temperature of Nice during the month of January (taken during eight years) was 47 degrees and a fraction. The mean temperature the whole year round, is nearly the same as at Florence, Rome and Naples, viz.: 59 degrees and a fraction. There has been neither snow nor ice at Nice this winter. Dryness of Climate is one of its most marked characteristics; the annual rainfall, however, is twenty-four inches, more than at either London or Paris. The explanation is a simple one; the greater proportion falls at the two periods of the equinox and within the limits of a few weeks. It has rained but four times during the past eight weeks, then in the night time and sparingly. Clear Days, or those characterized by clear sunshine, have been reckoned at one hundred and eighty in the year. These are distributed among the four seasons as follows: winter, forty-two; spring, forty-two; autumn, forty; and summer, forty-six. A cloudy day has been the exception during my stay here. Among Further Proofs of the mildness of this climate are the following: Swallows are seen here during these winter months, and as they are said to feed upon flying insects, you can imagine the warmth necessary for the support of insect life. The olive grows here in profusion, groves of these trees being seen stretching high up and for miles along the mountain sides, while in the valleys below are gardens devoted to the culture of tropical fruits, as the fig, lemon and the orange. One orchard of the latter contains 10,000 trees, whose fruit matures late in February. Here grows the palm, and myriads of roses in full bloom, which, with other flowers, lend their fragrance to every passing breeze. But this Elysium, this delightful climate, has some disagreeable features. There is a variation of fifteen degrees in temperature between sun exposed places and those in the shade. This sudden change, to a sensitive invalid, is very trying. The sun’s rays, which are cheering to all mankind, are here frequently inconveniently warm; they dazzle the eyes and irritate the skin, when exposed, resulting in the very general custom of carrying sun umbrellas. The inequality of temperature between the land and the sea during the daytime, frequently causes disagreeable breezes and counter currents in the air. A cool east wind frequently prevails during a portion of many days, in winter, resembling in character and effect the March winds of our own country; varying only in degree. The dryness of the atmosphere, before alluded to, makes it very stimulating, especially to the air passages. This is one of the principal reasons why I believe this climate is not well adapted for the relief of bronchitis or pulmonary consumption, unless it be some chronic cases, in aged people, accompanied with excessive expectoration. I believe the climate is well adapted for the relief of certain forms of gout, rheumatism, paralysis, nervous disability, lymphatic maladies, dyspepsia, and various other diseases unattended with sever organic lesions. Although Nice is more a resort for pleasure seekers, and, notwithstanding the disagreeable features of the climate which I have mentioned, there are few places, if any, which most invalids might better pass a winter. Please accept my grateful acknowledgements for the uniform courtesy you have shown me as presiding officer of your association, and for the marked proofs you have given me, of your confidence and sympathy. I bespeak for your association continued success, and as individuals, I wish you that peace and happiness which springs from the consciousness of a well-spent life. Pardon a person allusion to myself. I am glad to inform you that I am improved in health, and hope in a few months to return and resume my professional duties among you. At the date of your annual meeting I shall probably be in Naples, Italy; but wherever I journey I experience a growing affection for home, friends and country.
By April Bliss was in Serrano, Italy when he wrote to Dr. Wooster of Grand Rapids describing his present situation, and the Democrat reported on May 12, that his health “is still slowly improving though his cough still continues to bother him occasionally. There, as here, the weather has been unusual and quite disagreeable cold, damp and chilly. The doctor was to have started for Florence on the 1st inst. He reports his wife and daughter in good health and enjoying themselves.” By the end of June it was reported that Bliss would start home about the middle of July, and the Bliss family was in Paris when Zenas wrote to Dr. Wooster that his health was still improving although the Parisian weather was very bad. In early August he was reported to be back in the United States, having just recently landed at New York City, and by August 14 he was visiting friends in Ionia.
However his health continued to fail and by December of 1875 he was still generally confined to his home on Park Place in Grand Rapids. “Dr. Bliss,” wrote the Democrat in early December, “is once more able to take his meals with the rest of the Park Place family. He hopes to be able to attend to business again in a few days.” And on February 1, 1876, the paper noted that “Dr. Bliss has been feeling somewhat indisposed for the past several days, and obliged to remain within doors.”
Zenas never recovered and in fact his health steadily deteriorated until he died of consumption at his home on Sheldon Street in Grand Rapids on April 23, 1877. “Thus has passed away,” wrote the Eagle on April 24, “in the prime of life one who had seemed destined to reach the highest honors in the noble profession of medicine, and who, despite his long struggle against the insidious destroyer, had already won a place of distinction, and in many ways demonstrated his love for the well-being of his fellow men. . . . To say that he was highly esteemed by all classes in the community does not fully express that feeling of kind regard and affection engendered by his always modest walk and deportment, his quiet and unassuming ways, his love for and devotion to the highest art and skill in his profession, his noble uprightness as a man, and his tender solicitude and ever-active sympathies as a physician.”
The funeral services were held at his home at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday April 26, performed by Elder Errett, formerly of Ionia and one of Zenas’ long-time personal friends. “The choir rendered the chant, ‘Lord let me know mine and the number of my days’, very touchingly, the music by Mr. P. R. L. Peirce, Mrs. Church directing. The hymn, ‘Abide with me’, was also sung. A very large concourse of people assembled at the house and followed the remains to Fulton cemetery. The pall-bearers were among our prominent physicians, and the Medical fraternity attended in a body. Thus in the prime of life and in the zenith of his fame as a physician, has passed away from earth a true man, a devoted practitioner, and an honored and upright citizen. Peace to his ashes.”
Zenas was buried in Fulton cemetery, Grand Rapids: block 15 no. 3.